After the Shirley Sherrod furor, a pivot on racial entitlement?
The US Department of Agriculture, from which Shirley Sherrod was fired for appearing to discriminate, stood at the forefront of institutional racism for decades. The question of whether America has righted historical wrongs against blacks ignites today's heated race debate.
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Sherrod herself was struggling with the dichotomy of race and entitlement in her controversial speech, which, in full hearing indicated that, despite her experiences growing up in the Jim Crow South, she had ultimately moved beyond seeing the world through a prism of race.Skip to next paragraph
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"It’s a great story, honestly told, and I’d bet that most of those who took the time to watch that tape at one point reflected on their own, perhaps uncompleted journey to that same grace that Sherrod has tried to attain," writes Jay Bookman in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "That is a good thing. America has never been a static concept. To the contrary, it has existed in a permanent state of transformation politically and economically as well as demographically."
But instead of a thoughtful, albeit uncomfortable debate, as Mr. Bookman calls for, the racial tension, political scientists say, has only gotten more intense, fueled by both liberals and conservatives trying to score political points ahead of the election by charging their counterparts with racism.
From racialized caricatures of Obama at tea party rallies to groups like the NAACP seeing shadows of racism behind every mostly-white gathering, the debate seems to have devolved in recent weeks.
Obama as the first black president
Moreover, President Obama's election as the first black president has both fueled racial antagonism while at the same time providing proof to many Americans that their country is no longer defined by race.
"The desire to move past race is genuine, but I think that the method of getting past race reflects a certain type of dysfunction in American society," says Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta.
And once raised, the entitlement question is a difficult one to resolve.
In his column, Sen. Webb suggests getting rid of federal minority preference policies, including affirmative action programs, but not completely gutting programs that help struggling African-Americans. Complicating government's role is that key institutions such as schools, for example, are not federal enterprises, but rely on local property taxes and school boards to function – a system that all but ensures educational disparity that often affects blacks more than whites.
"I like the concept of 'enabling opportunity for all,'" writes James Joyner, on the Outside the Beltway blog. ""But what does that mean in practice? How do we break this cycle through the government?"